Are good managers born or made? According to the Management Advisory Service (MAS), the body that provides information to transform corporate culture, and develop leaders and managers: “Good managers attract exceptional staff; make the organisation a preferred employer; help to increase market share; add to profits and surpluses and reduce costs. Their staff are engaged, committed and go the extra mile.”
On a slightly cautionary note, they also say: “Managers, however, dance on a fault line – they either have the behaviours that inspire followers to do what they otherwise may not be willing to do, and without creating any psychological distress, or they do not, and the costs will escalate and ripple for a long time.”
Management is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Opinions of what makes a good leader vary from person to person – all of which is dependent on experience and interpretation. However, there are key elements that every manager should have in common. With this in mind, we asked two professionals from Reed’s experienced executive search team about the practical skills and traits they consider vital to excellent leadership.
Bukola Odofin, Area Director at Reed, human resources executive search specialist
Belief in the team
I believe a good manager will show belief in their team and their abilities – even if they collectively or individually may not have all the right criteria needed at first. If you can see the potential of someone becoming what you need them to be, that’s empowering. And I think that’s where managers gain a lot of loyalty. Managers should be people who instil trust and who are seen by their team as approachable – that’s a trait I look out for when headhunting c-suite professionals.
Every manager hopes for a motivated team, confident enough to use their initiative – the manager’s role is to raise motivation as it makes people feel valued, and it builds strong relationships as well.
I think also in terms of someone’s management style, it’s very important to have that welcoming, inclusive environment. If you don’t foster that sense of community or collaborative environment, where everyone is treated as an equal, where everyone feels that they belong, people just clam up.
Managers should create open dialogue where everyone can talk safely, and feel they truly belong at work.
The importance of soft skills
A balance of soft skills with operational ability is very important for managers – taking the time to get to know your team as individuals, and show you genuinely care, reaps rewards. An appreciation of personal circumstances – such as family and caring responsibilities – can help draw the best from people. A manager’s support and flexibility, particularly in challenging times, will motivate team members to return the favour with their best work.
I think it’s important to lead by example, and for a team to have reassurance that their manager knows what they’re doing, so that they feel comfortable to lean on them for support if they are struggling professionally or personally.
Setting realistic goals
Setting realistic goals is vital, making sure they are realistic in terms of individual strengths. Playing to someone’s strengths makes them feel good as well.
Solving problems together is a great team building activity in which managers can discover strengths they may not have been aware of in their team members.
Communication is key
I think it’s very important to generate enthusiasm amongst your staff because apart from the fact it helps them realise their capabilities, they’ll feel happier doing their work as well. Over and above everything, effective communication as a leader is vital. If you’re muddled in what you ask your team to do, it won’t work. Being clear and concise with what you expect also instils confidence.
Giving credit for a job well done
I believe in giving credit where credit’s due – and I certainly like to think I do that within my own team. If someone has done an amazing job, they should know about it as well as their colleagues. When we have those moments of great success or a project that maybe hasn’t done so well, my catchphrase is always, ‘What’s the moral of that tale?’, and as a team, we can work out what we learned from it, what might’ve been done differently, just so that we can plan better for the future.
Hugh Meatyard, Executive Permanents Consultant at Reed, procurement and supply chain executive search specialist
Managers with great people skills are highly sought after, as it’s important at senior level to have the ability to deal with lots of different types of personality.
The roles I recruit for are mainly technical, so employers want staff with experience of procurement and supply chain management or directorship. Those looking for a role are often required to have strong stakeholder management skills, showing their ability to work with other areas of the business and other divisions, and managing a lot of different people from the manufacturing factory floor, up to senior procurement staff.
Style and substance
Sometimes I choose applicants for executive positions by the size of teams they have managed, or specific technical projects they’ve initiated or implemented. From speaking with them, I can then learn more about their management style and whether it matches that of the prospective employer – whether that’s a soft approach, making gradual adjustments over time and understanding the morale and motivations of the team, or a more forthright transformation strategy.
Sometimes, we may consider candidates looking to take a step up into a management position, if they’ve perhaps had experience mentoring others, or of using reporting tools and carrying out one-to-one performance meetings.
Setting an example
Managers should feel confident demonstrating that they are results orientated and set consistent standards – which sets an example as well.
It’s vital to be a natural mentor, to like learning, to be able to talk to anyone with confidence. I think the most successful managers are those who find that these things come naturally.
Hallmarks of a great manager
According to the Management Advisory Service’s Dr Derek Mowbray, a chartered psychologist and chartered scientist with a doctorate in the psychology of leadership, the skills, knowledge and experience needed to be effective as a manager can be broken down into three streams:
Behaviours needed to interact effectively with others. The focus for these behaviours is to build and sustain commitment and trust between the manager and their team.
Skills needed to manage services. These are mainly technical skills relating to providing future direction or strategic and operational planning, providing the ability to co‐ordinate resources to achieve a purpose in the most efficient and effective manner.
Eclectic skills, knowledge and experience acquired over time that equips managers for leadership. These are mainly the acquisition of wisdom and experience, gained through exposure to a broad range of life and work experiences, that help develop the maturity needed to be able to lead others with conviction and impact.
Derek added: “Leaders create culture. Their promotion of a positive work culture should manifest itself in their own behaviours, and as role models their behaviour will attract the interest of followers and cascade to other levels of leadership and management.
“There are two guiding principles for successful leadership – sharing responsibility for the future success of the organisation or team with everyone who’s in either or both; and psychological responsibility – the obligation each person has to look after their own psychological wellbeing and the wellbeing of everyone else around them.”
Assessing management skills
More businesses are using ‘360-degree’ surveys as a way of understanding their leaders’ management skills. This feedback enables teams to provide anonymous feedback on their manager and is designed to be a positive learning exercise to help the manager address elements of their management style and resolve issues of which they were unaware.
Dr Derek Mowbray’s practical guide, Taking a Lead, contains theory, questionnaires, and exercises to help develop managers and turn them into great leaders.
If you’re looking for your next opportunity, or seeking a talented manager for your business, speak to one of our specialist recruiters today.